Relationships that Matter
A bride in New Zealand is said to have ordered a wedding cake with I John 4:18 inscribed on it in pink frosting. Which reads like this: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear. Well, somehow the decorator was a little hasty, because when the cake arrived at the church, she had put, not FIRST John 4:18, but just regular John 4:18. Which unfortunately reads as follows: For thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. That’s a very powerful Bible story, but maybe not right for a wedding day.
Do you savor your relationships in this place? There are many, many people I love in this church. I really do. Some of you are truly precious friends. In fact, being a good pastor, I can honestly say that I love all of you. I value our emotional connection, our friendship, our good times together. You can understand that this woman on the second row, NAME, is my favorite of all. She is my good church friend too. When the potlucks and the food bank giveaways and the board meetings are done, she is the one I want to have in the car with me as we go home. I like all of the rest of you just fine, but on the drive home, I want Lisa as my commuting partner.
But do we believe today that a God in heaven has intentionally given us these friendships? Do our marriages come to us from a divine origin?
I have sometimes gotten into fascinating conversations at the grocery store or at Circuit City. Sometimes when store clerks discover I’m a pastor, I use that as an opportunity to ask them: “Are you a church-going kind of guy?”
And more than once, I’ve had this response: “No,” they say. “I’m an atheist.” Just like that. These very friendly people are absolutely sure that we are here on this desolate planet all by ourselves. The fact that life sprang up here billions of years ago is totally random chance; the things that seem so designed to you and to me—the sun and moon, our brains and bodies, our kids—are just that one-in-a-trillion bit of cosmic luck as far as they was concerned.
So we go back and forth. I ask them how they would feel at the age of 70, as their life approaches the shadows, to think that the beauties of life might soon be coming to an end. Well, they aren’t happy about that, they admit . . . but what are you supposed to do? This life is all there is, good or bad, long or short, easy or hard. You get it, you spend it, and you don’t complain. If you get killed in Iraq, tough luck.
And I didn’t stop to think, until I began to work on my sermon, what this means about relationships. If there is no planning and designing God, then all of our friendships, our loves, our families, our intimacy—are projects we must find and accomplish on our own. We get no help from above. Maybe I’ll find some oneness if I try real hard. You might stumble onto a compatible wife if you read enough books and go to the right singles bar.
But I find in my own experience as a son, then a husband, then a father and grandfather, that I plainly see the guiding of God. I found the right wife because God intended it. I discovered wholeness and oneness because God wanted me to have those blessings. I have seen people who were floundering and frustrated; their spiritual life was a two on the one-to-ten scale. Then they found the right man and married him. Today they have physical oneness, emotional oneness, spiritual oneness. So I believe the Bible when it talks about marriage being a heavenly plan.
This marriage syllabus, Weekend to Remember, gave us some pointed counsel last week about barriers to oneness. But turning to the positive side of the equation, they now assert with real conviction: Marriage Is God’s Idea. Again, quoting from Genesis 2:24, which is a God narrative or prescription, we find these words: A man will leave his father and mother and be united with—“cleave to”—his wife, and they will become one flesh.
I won’t ask you today to report on what has ever been the biggest monetary bet you’ve ever placed in your life. There’s an old story about a man who worked in the silver mines outside Reno for many long years. He spent fifty cents a week on toothpaste and saved the rest. After a lifetime of slaving away, he walked into Reno one night with a suitcase full of dollar bills. The total was $750,000, as the story goes. He asked a hotel casino manager if they would let him bet the entire amount on one spin of the roulette wheel. The pit bosses consulted, they said yes, he put the suitcase on black . . . and the ball fell into a black slot. He walked into the sunset with $1.5 million dollars in his pocket.
Now, true story or not, why do I use that corny illustration? First of all, marriage is God’s idea. It’s His plan, His blueprint, His invention. And secondly, please mark this down: God designed marriage to be a lifetime COMMITMENT between one man and one woman. In other words, marriage is the ultimate roll of the dice. It is the biggest gamble, the most extravagant pledge you’re ever going to make. You pick a person, sometimes based on good or shallow reasons and experiences, and swear before God and your families and peers: I will stay with you and love and honor and cherish and serve and be monogamous with you and only you . . . for the rest of my life. Honey, I hope you work out, ‘cause this is all my poker chips. I’m all in. A French philosopher once wrote: “Marriage is a lottery in which men stake their liberty, and women their happiness.”
James Dobson tells a story where his own dad, Dobson, Sr., wrote a note to his bride on their wedding day. And basically said: I don’t know the future. We might be very happy together; we might not. You or I might turn out to be a terrible partner, a shrew, a divider, a drag, a devil. But if that’s what happens—though I doubt it will —I’m determined to spend the rest of my life with you anyway, Lucifer, based on the promises we are making today. Wow. You talk about rolling the dice and praying for a seven.
Now, I don’t believe that Christian or specifically Bible ideas should be shoe-horned into the laws of this state. My atheist friend from Circuit City has as much right to be here as I do and go into a completely secular marriage if he gets the chance. But the book of Genesis tells us that marriage, Adam and Eve, is the very first social institution God designed. I have wonderful friendships with you dear people sitting here this morning, but God intended for marriage to be the “first system of interdependent relationships,” as this manual puts it. He made me to desperately need my wife and for her to desperately need me.
He also made it clear that our marriages should be the “priority relationship of the family.” I do a parenting seminar now and then, and we start chapter one with marriage. Marriage: The Foundation of Your Home. Happy spouses make good parents. The best thing a dad can do for his kids is to go home and love their mother.
In our church board meetings, we routinely consider and pray about what should be our top priorities. Obviously, the salvation of our boys and girls will always be a #1 priority for this church. We might try Plan A or Plan B, but whatever plan we do, it will be our top plan and our top budget item. We will never make literature distribution or building maintenance or the praise music or the rent a higher concern than our boys and our girls.
And if you’re here today as a married person, you need to make the nurturing and the happiness of your spouse the top concern of your life. What can you do to bless your partner?
In First Corinthians 7, Paul writes very frankly about the fact that it is easier to be a missionary if you’re single. We have to be careful here at church not to abuse the idea that single people can just shove everything to the side and hang around here, running food banks and organizing hikes and heading up softball tournaments and cleaning up all the messes. But there are times when ministry and long hours are easier to give away if you don’t have a husband or a wife. There have been a few occasions when my wife has sent me away on an overseas mission trip all by myself because it’s just easier to do that kind of morning-and-evening missionary work if I’m not always having to give her a foot massage back at the hotel. Just kidding. However, Paul then goes right on in verse 33 to say: Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. And he implies this with his tone: “As it should be.” It’s your top priority and it should be your top priority.
Here is the core sound bite from this marriage manual: God’s design for ONENESS in marriage is at the heart of God’s purpose for mankind. Marriage is a central model for how our lives should be led, both in our vertical relationship with God and then in our horizontal connections with one another, in friendships and in marriage too. And then they define oneness in this very good way: Oneness is “being in joyful agreement with God’s will and purpose.”
Let’s look this morning at God’s three great purposes in creating us. Why did God finish off the Friday of Creation Week by making first a man, then a woman?
Purpose #1 is To Mirror God’s Image. Genesis 1:27: So God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.
My young friend at Circuit City believes that the occurrence here of males and females is just a bolt of lucky lightning hitting this third planet from the sun. I heard a cute story about doctors and nurses in an obstetrics ward, back when the daddies paced out in the waiting room for hours. And a doctor came out just to get some coffee; the mom was only at six centimeters dilated and a couple of hours away still. But the dad jumped up and asked: “Is it a boy or a girl?” The doctor, getting coffee out of the vending machine, just said to him: “Well, we don’t know yet.” And a shy candy-striper nurse’s aide, maybe 15 years old, misunderstanding, said kind of bashfully: “Show it to me; I can tell.”
Now, how we got to have little babies with boy parts and others with girl parts is a mystery the scientists can’t explain. But the Bible tells us why. It takes both a man and a woman to truly reflect two things.
First, the nature of God. The Bible deliberately uses male pronouns to describe God; He’s portrayed as our Father, and we accept that as a divinely inspired metaphor. But there are also tender feminine words which tell us about God; He is like the mother nursing her young, like the shepherd protecting the little lambs, the mother hen sacrificing her life for the baby chicks. So we see God most fully by having both a father and a mother.
But here’s the bigger issue. God as Trinity—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—is a model of relationships. Of unity. Of oneness. Of mutual goals. Common objectives. Supporting one another. Even without the human race, God is love because there are three of them.
We learn something about unity by seeing Jesus in Gethsemane on the Thursday night before He died. Jesus was divine and also human, and that night the human part of Him did not want to die. Didn’t want to be rejected and tortured. And He tells His Father that. Please let this cup of suffering pass from me. But then He immediately adds: However, I bow to the unified decision we together made earlier. At this unique moment when My humanity causes me to want a different thing, I defer to the oneness we have always had together in heaven.
Here’s something else. In Ephesians 5, there’s a hard Bible passage where Paul talks about wives submitting to their husbands, allowing the man they marry to be a leader within the sacred confines of the home, not by domineering, but by cherishing, says The Messageparaphrase. But what’s the parallel? Because Jesus is the head of this church, He leads and we follow Him. I don’t care who we put on the church board; it is going to always be obedient to the things Jesus wants us to do. And this church, and our friendships, and our marriages are all modeled on the reality that God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all love each other and seek oneness of purpose.
Here’s Purpose #2:To Mutually Complete One Another (To Experience Companionship). Genesis 2:18: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
We studied last week how the enemy of our marriages comes in and attacks us with difficulty or with cultural dissonance or with selfishness. And in every case of demonic invasion, what is the result? Isolation. Satan is the master and the commander of isolation. He wants our marriages to break up; he wants for this church to dissolve. He wants for your children to grow up to be estranged from you. But here in the very first week of creation, God ordains that companionship is the antidote for isolation.
I remember a friend who has gone through many struggles in his personal life. He lives alone, has a bad job with a mountain of debt beating him down, is unhappy, is bitter toward religion and the church. He grinds though his eight hours of work, which he hates, and then retreats to his cramped little apartment and spends every evening and all weekend watching DVD movies all by himself. His life is a shallow mess and he knows it; he talks openly about it, but just doesn’t know how to break out of the cycle of isolation.
And I smile a little bit when I compare my friend’s life to my own in the years before my better half came along. I wasn’t unhappy in that way, but I lived by myself and didn’t do much except switch channels on a TV set. It was easy to waste time and it was hard to stay productive.
Then I got married. I found this person who helped me to not be alone. But what’s more, I had a person by my side who was good at the things I wasn’t. The skills I lacked, she had—which is a blockbuster résumé at our house. The things I didn’t know how to do, she was skilled at accomplishing.
But there’s more than that. She brought out my own latent talents; her optimistic presence encouraged me to use my gifts instead of store them or waste them. I got involved in more projects; I began to develop new skills and hone my current ones. You all know that the scientific word synergy describes how you get a new community energy that is more than the sum of the parts. A marriage doesn’t just pool my talents and those of my spouse; we actually help each other to develop to the fullest and to gain new talents.
There’s a sweet story in Genesis 24 where Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to faraway Canaan and the town of Nahor to find a wife for his son Isaac. You know the story—how the beautiful Rebekah comes out and waters all of his camels in response to the sign Eliezer asks God to fulfill. Rebekah, this beauty queen, agrees to go and be the wife of a man she’s never met. And a few weeks later, there’s this beautiful, romantic moment where Isaac is in the field. He looks up and sees the camel caravan coming. Rebekah covers her face with a veil in preparation for her marriage. Verse 67: Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. God gives us spouses and relationships to complete us, to give us intimacy instead of isolation. I have experienced loss in my own family, and when the bad news came to me, I didn’t feel safe or whole until I was finally in the presence of my wife again.
Purpose #3: To Multiply a Godly Legacy. Genesis 1:28: And God blessed [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” All of us with romantic impulses embrace this verse and very happily obey it, but I hope we are wise enough to see the grandeur of its divine mission. If our relationship exist for the purpose of reflecting and mirroring the presence of God here on earth, then our baby-making and our expanding of the church family are for the purpose of extending His kingdom and reclaiming our world for Jesus. This manual makes the point: God created men and women as His ambassadors who would glorify Him on earth. We’re here to fill our planet with more people like ourselves, people who will acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives.
I stood at the counter of Circuit City and had this very friendly atheist standing in front of me. What is it my role to fill? I have to speak to him about my belief that God exists, that God made him, that God loves him, that God wants to give him eternal life. I was there long enough that night that I said all of those things, and I didn’t blush when I said them. We are here to multiply the family of God in our world.
In terms of babies, the Bible tells us that marriage provides the divine context for having children. We all know how the great old King James Version, Genesis chapter four, has this cryptic statement: And Adam KNEW Eve his wife. And that is a wonderfully holy and sexual word, because he knew her so well that she got pregnant. I had to smile and wince because the Hebrew word yada is translated “to know,” or literally, to sleep with, and six thousand years later sitcoms say “yadda yadda yadda” to kind of get at the same concept, but in a trashy way, where we really don’t know that person.
But it’s a wonderful and godly thing when a Christian man and a Christian woman, bound together by eternal promises, get to intimately know each other so well that babies are born nine months later. And it’s a fortunate child who grows up in the kind of home where they see oneness and experience all of practical Christianity demonstrated before their learning eyes.
Now, for just a closing moment, let’s pause and flip on a warning light. Again, God’s Purposes For Marriage Are Challenged By an Opposing Force. I told you about this book, Fatherless America, which describes a sea change in American culture regarding marriage. More and more people are deciding: it isn’t necessary. The mom-dad-kids family structure is now a minority statistic here in America.
Speaking of “yadda yadda,” maybe you remember a Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine are specifically rooting for the demise of their friends’ marriage—David and Beth. They want their friends to break up so that they can swoop in and pick up the two broken pieces. They plot to destroy the relationship. And we find in God’s Word that Lucifer challenges the concept of intimacy. He breaks up marriages; he has twisted the ideal of sexual fulfillment. In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sin, the immediate results are shame and separation. Verse 12: “The Woman You gave me,” Adam complains to God, “as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.” Adam immediately blames his wife; both of them realize that their bodies are bare and their unity fractured. For the first time ever, they’re afraid instead of happy.
I have read of cities where all the Christian churches stood up together and said, in essence, “We know that Satan hates our happy homes, that he wants to infiltrate and destroy our marriages. And we’re not going to let it happen.” They virtually passed a “Christian ordinance” that couples just would not get married until they went through extensive counseling and prayer. When trouble came, there were friends and small groups who would come around and help. It wasn’t a rigid rule, but just a network of loving people who said: “Let’s realize that there are two cosmic sides to this great battle. And we are together on the Lord’s side.”
I got into this brief sermon series with some reluctance because we have people coming here who aren’t currently in marriages. We love you equally and value your participation. But in all of our relationships, there can be intimacy. I think of restaurant conversations I have had with some of you where you shared your deep and personal thoughts and listened to some of mine. Even if you’re single or divorced you can come here, or go to a Friday night fellowship group, and hold a baby in your lap, and have someone love you. We exist to give each other the God-crafted experience of loving and being loved. If your soul craves a holy hug, you should know that you can come to this building and receive one. “No one is without a home in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.’”
None of us have perfect marriages—but we can picture them. It’s there in our mind’s eye. And I hope we dream of perfection in a positive way, not a dissatisfied or complaining one. But the ideal of perfect married love is in our hearts to show us just how much God loves us. I rarely choose to teach you out of a Catholic catechism, but here is Article 1604: “Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes.” Shall we pray?
Lord, we thank You profusely for the gift of our relationships. We don’t live in sterile isolation, but here in a community of flesh and blood and hearts and minds and emotions. Help us to love one another. Bless our marriages and our friendships. Keep us aware of the enemy, but focused on You and Your example of self-sacrifice. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.